Beware Barracoon- Ibram X. Kendi Could Be Coming to a School Near You!

Beware Barracoon- Ibram X. Kendi Could Be Coming to a School Near You!

BarracoonIbram X. Kendi hit the road promoting his latest book, ‘Barracoon,’ and Atlanta made the tour list– from the Fulton County Library and Druid Middle School in Decatur to Lincoln Middle School in Gainesville. 

On Monday, January 29th, 2024, Kendi spoke at Druid Hills Middle School during school hours, which is part of the Dekalb County School District– the very same district that hired Devon Horton as Superintendent, even though he is a primary defendant in a federal lawsuit during his employment as the Superintendent of the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 in Illinois filed in June 2021. He is accused of “treating individuals differently because of their race.” 

All students, staff, and parents were invited to attend the interview of Ibram X. Kendi, which was facilitated by Fefe Handy, who founded Atlanta-based nonprofit literacy advocates, Page Turners. After hearing so much about Ibram X Kendi over the last few years, I needed to go hear his message directly.  

Who exactly is Ibram X. Kendi? 

According to Ibram X. Kendi, he is a leading anti-racist scholar. But let’s take a quick look at his background: 

Ibram X. Kendi was born in the Jamaica neighborhood of the New York City borough of Queens, as Ibram Henry Rogers, to middle-class parents who are now ministers. 

He is a professor, activist, and author of fifteen books for adults and children, mostly surrounding his ‘Anti-Racist’ concept that there is no such thing as being “not-racist”- there is only anti-racism and racism. Meaning, if you are not supporting policies and ideas that level any form of racial disparity, you are racist. 

Kendi is the founder and director of the Boston University Center for Anti-Racist Research, which is under investigation for the mismanagement of roughly $43 million- where he laid off the majority of his staff and only produced two original research papers, despite the extraordinarily large sum of funding he received.  

His highly divisive concepts that America is inherently racist has landed him, and his fifteen books, on the tops of New York Times Best seller lists– with praise and accolades from the mainstream media that followed. He was declared one of the most influential people in the world as a result. 

Does this event violate HB1084, Georgia’s “Protect Students First Act”?

Given the highly divisive racial propaganda that Kendi is known for espousing, and did throughout the event, the questions have to be asked: 

Who paid for this event? Was it Georgia taxpayers? 

Kendi’s book Barracoon was sold in the gym that day to anyone interested- who kept the money from the book sales? 

Did the non-profit Page Turners pay for this event? Does Page Turners receive funding from Dekalb County Schools? 

Were parents allowed to opt-out, or were students required to attend?  

When Fefe Handy suggested students receive a copy of the book, who paid for the books?  

This begs the primary question- does this conflict with Georgia’s “Protect Students First Act,” HB1084, passed in 2021-2022 by the Georgia Legislature and signed into law by Governor Kemp. Perhaps Georgia AG Carr should investigate to determine if the current law was violated. The bill protects students from Divisive Concepts, which it defines as views espousing such concepts as:

‘The United States of America is fundamentally racist (line 37);  An individual, by virtue of his or her race, is inherently or consciously racist or oppressive toward individuals of other races (line 38); An individual, solely by virtue of his or her race, bears individual responsibility for actions committed in the past by other individuals of the same race (lines 43-44).

The bill defines espousing views as ‘political beliefs’, which means:

‘an individual, while performing official  duties as part of his or her employment or engagement with a school or local school  system, intentionally encouraging or attempting to persuade or indoctrinate a student, school community member, or other school personnel to agree with or advocate for such  individual’s personal beliefs concerning divisive concepts.’  (lines 51-55)

The Barracoon Event itself 

Let’s share some highlights from the event so you can decide if its a violation of HB1084 for yourself: 

  • Dr. Kendi made sure to highlight his MacArthur fellowship by telling the students that the MacArthur fellowship is how the United States determines who is a genius and who is not- essentially saying he is a genius. 
  • Dr. Kendi told the students 16 million Africans were brought over to North and South America during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.  

Words matter especially when you are introduced as ‘Dr. Kendi’, claiming the United States has designated you as a genius! So let’s fact check Kendi’s statement: 

Between 1525 and 1866, according to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, considered the gold standard on the slave trade, 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World but only 10.7 million made it to North America, the Caribbean and South America. Of that 10.7 million, 388,000 were shipped directly to North America. Regardless of the numbers, the slave trade was a horrific time in history. Slavery should never exist for any reason at all for any people.  But facts matter, especially when educating children and presenting yourself as an expert on the topic.

  • Kendi gave an overview of his book highlighting the life of Cudjoe Lewis, who was purportedly brought to the United States in 1860. 

This is well after Congress made it illegal to import slaves into the United States in 1808, a key point Kendi failed to mention to the students. In fact, Kendi’s book Barracoon is an intentional adaptation for middle schoolers, of Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo.”   

  • When asked why the book was primarily written in the dialect of Cudjoe Lewis, Kendi felt that students should hear how Lewis spoke ‘as a rural southern black Alabamian to understand his story fully.’ 

A quality education also matters. Druid Hills Middle School scored between 20-25% proficient in reading and 35-39% in math. Instead of promoting better literacy rates, Kendi is championing Broken English. 

Language is a powerful tool for anyone, anywhere to be understood by the people around them. We know that education lifts people from poverty and allows them to become self-sufficient citizens. Why not encourage students to read more instead of fueling a racial divide? Being educated citizens does not mean we abandon our different cultures or we lack respect for the culture of others. Broken English will prevent someone from reading at a proficient level.  Broken English is not due to someone’s skin color but related to the quality of education they have received or the level of effort they have invested in their education.   

  • Another student asked, “Was there something in your childhood that motivated you to focus on anti-racism?” Kendi stated that while attending middle school in Queens, NY, where he grew up, it was typical for him to be followed by the police. Teachers did not think he was capable because of his skin color, and he was consistently followed in and out of stores. He didn’t understand why this was happening, which led him to want a better understanding of racism.  
  • A student asked what advice you would give students growing up in Georgia about racism. Kendi commented that you should not judge a person by their skin color.  

Let’s take a look at a post Kendi made on February 17, 2022- which runs counter to his words: 

Ibram X Kendi Barracoon

 His post suggests black kids need to understand they are being treated unfairly because of their skin color. What hope are you giving them with this narrative? What does this do for their perspective of the world? This narrative creates a deeper divide. 

  • Kendi goes on to answer the question of what students can do about racism in Georgia by saying they need to push back on school book banners actively, push back on those who allow police to kill black people continually, or those who make it hard for black people to vote.  

He fails to explain that the so-called book banners are parents exercising their parental right to remove a book from a publicly funded school because they feel it is inappropriate for their child and that the book can still be purchased in a bookstore or checked out at a local public library. 

He does not offer context or evidence to support that police continually kill black people or explain how people are trying to make it hard for black people to vote. He just makes matter of fact statements and because he has been deemed an expert he is expected to be trusted.

The only part of the event that wasn’t egregiously divisive was how the event began- a beautiful performance by the Druid Hills Middle School chorus singing the song “Stand Up” from the 2019 movie Harriet Tubman.  

The irony of it begs the real question– what would these leaders who fought for racial equality years ago think about children being taught and told that they need to remain divided. 

Feel free to check out the Part 1 video here. 

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